Iris, Greek Goddess of Rainbows and Messenger of Olympus
Iris Aellopous is the Greek goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods of Olympus. She was a handmaiden and servant of the queen of the gods, Hera, and served as her personal messenger as well as an envoy of Zeus to the kingdoms of his brothers, Poseidon and Hades. For Hera, she was an advisor and close personal assistant.
She was originally a princess from the island of Thaumantia. There, her father was Thaumas The Wondrous, king of Thaumantia, a god of the sea and servant of Poseidon. Her mother was Elektra, a goddess of the clouds and servant of Zeus. This lineage united sky and water, skills that Iris combined to create wondrous lights and rainbows. For the coastal-dwelling Greeks, the rainbow’s arc was most often seen spanning the distance between cloud and sea, and so the goddess was believed to replenish the rain-clouds with water from the sea.
Iris, in her thousand hues enrobed traced through the sky her arching bow . . . Iris entered, and the bright sudden radiance of her robe lit up the hallowed place . . . Iris departed, and fled away back o’er the arching rainbow as she came.Ovid
A natural mediator, Iris was the preferred messenger to commune between the domains of the three great gods. She often journeyed between Olympus and the seat of the king of the sea, Poseidon. Most miraculously she was one of the few granted to carry messages between Olympus to the realm of Hades. Furthermore, she carried messages from the gods to the world of men. She was the joiner or conciliator, the messenger of heaven, and restored peace in nature.
Iris was known to have no personal relationships with any other god. So much so that she was deemed to be a virgin goddess, although some myths associate her with Zephyrus and as mother of Eros, these are thought to be reinterpretation of other tales. She was depicted as pure and angelic with golden wings.
Tales with the gods
When Persephone left Olympus to join her new husband, Hades in the underworld, her mother, Demeter ran into exile. Demeter was gone for many months to the detriment of the crops she oversaw. Zeus called upon Iris to find Demeter and implore her to return to Olympus. Iris searched the skies and seas, eventually locating Demeter in a cove. She begged the goddess to return, but Demeter could not be swayed. Iris regaled Zeus of the bad news, and the king of the gods had to fetch Demeter himself.
Hera had kidnapped Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, just before the goddess Leto went into labor with twins. Of them, Artemis came well, but Apollo was slow and agonizing to come. Such was Leto’s torment that Zeus bid Iris to find and return Eileithyia so she could oversee the delivery of Apollo.
When a war erupted between the Echidnades and the Harpies, Iris was swift to respond and check the two sides with her mediating words. She swore by the waters of Styx, the strongest oath a god of Olympus could make, that the two would come to peace and never encounter one another again in the house of Phineus.
Styx resides in the Underworld near the halls of Hades and Persephone, and lived apart from the other gods in a glorious house with a stone roof supported by silver columns. Iris was the only god or goddess Styx allowed into her dwelling. When disruptions occur between the gods, Iris would go to the house of Styx and fetch water from the goddess’ power in her pitcher. Any god who pours the waters of Styx and swears an oath is solemnly bound to tell only the truth, which was the gods most sacred vow.
Iris captured Jason of the Argonauts and brought him to Aphrodite. The goddess of love was overseeing the union of Jason with Medea, and it was Iris that brought the couple together so they could be united.
Hera once bid Iris to interrupt worshippers of Dionysus for an insult that he had dealt the god-queen. The worshippers turned on Iris and were set to violently assault her, but she was saved by Dionysus himself in time.
Iris was associated with Morpheus through the world of dreams and together delivered messages across the kingdoms. There is some conjecture that they shared a brief romance.
The Trojan War
Iris played a significant role in the Trojan War but not as a fighter or meddler. She faithfully relayed the will of Zeus to the other gods who were fighting and meddling.
The Akhaian commander Diomedes attacked and wounded Aphrodite as she tried to protect her son, Aineias. Iris swooped in to assist the staggering goddess from the battlefield while the god Apollo stepped in to help Aineias. Ares, god of war, had his chariot nearby, and Iris assisted Aphrodite into Ares’s war chariot and the two goddesses flew to Mount Olympus so Aphrodite could be healed of her wounds.
Iris herself took no side in the war, and would offer help and advice where she could. She advised the Trojan commander Hector to allow his captains to rally their own troops so that there would be no confusion due to language differences. Iris also assisted Achilles, Hector’s most hated enemy, by going to Aeolus to beseech him to command Boreas (god of the North Wind) to help light the funeral pyre of his fallen companion, Patroklos.
Zeus would not allow the gods to engage in the actual fighting, but Poseidon could not restrain himself from defending the Akhaians. Zeus instructed Iris to go to Poseidon and command him to withdraw. Hearing Iris’ message, Poseidon launched into a long-winded tirade. Iris listened patiently and asked if Poseidon wanted her to take his hostile words back to Zeus. She reminded Poseidon the Erinyes (the Furies of Hades) always sided with Zeus and it would be unwise to provoke them. Poseidon understood the futility of his anger and praised Iris for her wisdom.